Monday, November 30, 2009

A trip to Haicang...

I took this Monday off, making up for working last Thursday and Friday while those we know back in the States were stuffing themselves with Turkey. I've still got a lot of vacation time that I need to use up before the end of the year, and we also have a lot of errands that we need to complete before movers come to pack up our belongings and ship them to the back.

Todays main errand was to head over to the mainland, the Haicang area of Xiamen, where there is an artisan-type village. We had a painting that we purchased from our friend Yogi that we wanted to have framed over here at a lower cost. We thought that we would head over and leave the painting with him so that we could pick it up in two weeks - the next time we would be free to head over there again.

Nope, we showed him the frame style we would like and before we could say anything else, or even discuss costs, he had rummaged around his back room and was working at tacking our painting to a frame.
Within 30 minutes he was done and it looked great. He wrapped it all up and then sat us down to have some tea. Then came the price - an unbelievable 60 kaui (about 9 USD).

The taxi rides each took 30 minutes, and the ride there and back cost us a total of 56 kuai. So, not bad for getting our painting quickly framed.

The rest of the day I spend running around the local alleys and markets pickup up all sorts of thing. The most important being buying a new large suitcase, that we are hoping can at least survive the trip home, for 210 kaui (about 30 USD) and getting my shoes repaired at the cobbler for 20 kuai (about 3 USD).

A busy day of running around, but we're slowly making progress.....

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Trip update...

A few weeks ago we asked where we should head on our last long weekend trip before we leave China at the end of the year. We listed the following places:
1. Quindao
2. Hongcun
3. Sanming
4. Tiger Leaping Gorge

All of the information we that received pointed to option #4 but we were still thinking of just tossing all the names into a hat and seeing what we pulled out. But the other night we were talking, and actually listening to each other this time, and we came up with a fifth option.

The fifth option instantly won and we quickly called up our travel agent and booked the flights...

video

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Off to Gulang yu

Lately is seems like there are more and more tours to the little island off the island - Gulang yu. Last time we wanted to head over the lines for the ferry were packed, heading all the way up the ramp, and as much fun as fighting the crowd is, we decided we wanted no part of that.

The solution? Instead of a free 8 minute ferry ride is to hop on one of the many speed boats that are always running back and forth...
It's a quick trip, just about 1 minute, and for only 25 kuai each (3.60 USD). It's worth it at that price, and we don't have to spend the 1 kaui that we normally do on the ferry for first class.

Next time we go we will take a video of the ride, as one does get bounced around quite a bit....

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving...

Since yesterday was the nice American holiday of Thanksgiving, and we are without a real oven in our apartment, we were forced into going out if we wanted to enjoy a nice turkey meal.

Luckily there are enough places on the island that offer up Thanksgiving specials, and we decided that we would go over to the Coyote for the full buffet that they were putting together. Coyote makes sense since it seems like we are there at least every other weekend enjoying their brunch menu, oh and their margaritas.

We arrived over there around 18:00, grabbed a seat and ordered us a nice bottle of wine. The food came out at 18:30 and within an hour we were completely stuffed and a sizable dent had been made in the buffet offerings.

Unfortunately we didn't think to get any photos of the great meal, our heaping plates, or even of the crowd of people that showed up to enjoy a holiday meal in Xiamen. We did manage to remember our camera after we had eaten and we were able to snap a photo of a well picked over feast - you'll notice that the tray with the sweet potatoes is completely empty...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

You would think it would be easy....

After filling our tummies at Yih and Allen's place, we ventured over to Gu Lang Yu to meet up with friends and help the Mexican and his charming wife look for some small Chinese folding fans.

Next year is Alejandra's 15th birthday, and in Mexico it's a very big deal, something similar to our sweet 16th birthdays, but on a grandeur scale. The fans were to be in a specific colour, and though it sounds easy, since we live in the country where every women and most men have them, finding specific colours wasn't. I tried in Shanghai but no luck. Mark and I went over first and asked some friends but the colours were wrong, so we continued looking until we received a call from another friend to join them for a drink at a new bar. How could we refuse? Besides it was a nice break from the throngs of tourists.

Enroute to Gu Lang Yu

Hats for sale..Mark wanted to buy one


The Mexican met us later for a beer and then we continued looking for the fans. We called it a night as we weren't getting anywhere with finding the fans, because a couple of boys were starting to get hungry. Now the fun begins. Finding a taxi around 6:30pm is as bad as finding one at 4:30 when they change shifts. One very quick thinking Chinese decides he will offer us a ride for only 20 kuai. Yea, bud, don't think so. The guy's worse than the taxis in Guangzhou. We found one quick enough and made it to the Coyote where we met Stalin for dinner.
The Mexican, The Australian, The American, and The Canadian

The hunt for the fans are still on....

Brunch

Sunday morning we wandered over to sister Siew Yih and Allen's place for brunch. Yih had just come back from an extended stay with family in Malaysia a few weeks ago. Seeing as we hadn't had a chance to catch up with her when she suggested coming over to their place so she could cook for us we jumped at the opportunity.
It was a small group of us, and the food was some good tasty.
They've also got a real good view from their place of the lake and park, it's just too bad it wasn't a clearer day that would have allowed us to get some nicer photos.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Back to the Londoner

Last week whilst Tina was running errands she ran into her friend Amy who made sure to let us know that Saturday night The Londoner pub was putting together a barbecue. That's good to know, as it would have been awful if we hadn't any plans for a weekend night. We spent our Saturday sleeping in late and then running around getting some small things completed before finding ourselves seated over at the Coyote with some nice margarita's in front of us.

At the Coyote our friends Anthony and Sarah wandered in and we let them know we were heading out for the burgers just round the corner at The Londoner. They showed up over there about 20 minutes after we did.
It's been a long time since we've been to this pub, and we've forgotten what fun it can be. Good pints of Guinness, wine, and a fairly large group of other laowais that we don't know since we seem to run in separate pub circles. Seriously, we met another couple that has been living in Xiamen for 8 years and this is the first time we ever met them.
The grilled burgers were outstanding, and our group managed to drink the pub out of its stock of white wine. No problem we figure and place a quick call into Temptations asking them to deliver us 2 bottles of the standard white that Tina normally buys.

Sounds easy, but this being China it never works out perfectly and the girl shows up with two warm bottles of slightly more expensive wine. Tina quickly jumps in a cab with her back to Temptations to verify that she gets cold bottles of what she is looking for and then returns to the impromptu pool games that we've started.
Yeah, good fun - and a reminder that we need to get out to some of the other bars and pubs that Xiamen has to offer in the short time that we still have here...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Shanghai

After our fun weekend in Harbin, we travelled to Shanghai, Mark for work, and me for some last minute shopping and sightseeing.
The weather was not however co-operating, which is unusual for us, so instead of going to the Pearl Tower to get one last view of Shanghai, I went to the Musuem of the National Party's First Congress. Interesting propaganda.
Wandered around the French Concession for awhile before I decided to hit the shops by the museum of Science and Technology, the same time Obama was there conducting his Town Hall Meetings.

I wonder if he knew, two floors down was one of the largest knock off markets in Shanghai.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The rest of our Harbin trip.

The one thing we do take for granted back in Xiamen, is the lack of cars constantly beeping their horns. How Mark slept through that I still haven't quite figured out.

Searching for sites was a bit difficult if you weren't going to Harbin for the ice festival but we managed to find a few sights that sounded interesting.

We found a very charming Russian cafe and had breakfast/lunch. The building dated back to the early 1900's and it was reminisent of old Russian architecture. After lunch we walked back to St. Sophia's church figuring it would look quite lovely with all the snow, plus we wanted to visit inside.
Once inside we were greeted by a choir who sang quite beautifully. As we listened to them sing we took in the history of Ha'erbin as it's now a musuem and services are no longer offered. The church itself is older, and much of the paint is cracked but you do get a sense of grandeur back in the day.

video
Mark and I wanted to visit one of the museums, named Unit 731 Museum where it depicts the horrors of what the Japanese did to the Chinese during WWII. Here is where our best laid plans come unfolded. The museum was a 45 minute drive from where we were and due to the weather we weren't going anywhere quickly. Finally the taxi driver told us it was too late as the last entry into the museum was at 3pm and it was already 2:45pm, so we scrapped that idea and decided to go to the Confucius Temple except that too was closed, and the idea of going to Dragon Tower was squashed as the weather was to bad to actually see anything. Last on our list was to try this British pub. Hey after a long day of sightseeing, one needs to find a nice place to relax.

Okay, so we get to the pub to find out that it's closed. How can that be? We checked the opening hours and on the weekends the pub was to be open from noon until late. Well it was about 3:30pm and it still wasn't open. The original thought was that the employees were late due to the weather, but we saw a light inside, though the gate was locked. We found a coffee shop where we warmed up a bit, and then checked the pub again. Nope now the lights were off. Batting 1000 we decided to take a taxi back to the hotel to grab some food. Yea, the fun of China around 4:30 is trying to find a taxi during this time when they are changing shifts and everyone is searching for a taxi. We managed to find one
that would take us back to the church. After taking some night photos of St. Sophia's church, we finally made our way back to the hotel for dinner, watched some movies and called it a night.
It is a very pretty city, and would be interesting going there in the summer where you could wander through some of the older streets. Perhaps next time...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sorry for the hiatus...

We thought that we would have gotten more of our Harbin trip written up and in the pipeline so that they would automatically post, but somehow that didn't happen.

I'm up in Shanghai this week for work, and Tina is now back in Xiamen holding down the home front. We've got post ideas but I've got the photos and not a lot of time to post, and while Tina has time we understand that most of our readership requires photos to stay interested...

I'm back in Xiamen tomorrow, so regular posting should resume then - or maybe Saturday. In the meanwhile be happy knowing that it's cold here in Shanghai, not as cold as Harbin, but just above freezing with rain and lunches in restaurants that don't have their heat on isn't all that comfortable. On the plus side, since it's winter they've turned all the fridges off so you can't even buy a cold beer or soda in the convenience stores - who drinks cold beverages when it's cold outside?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Harbin Day 1

After walking the main pedestrian street in the old town, and checking out Sophie’s Church we tried looking for breakfast. I don’t know what it is about us, every time we try and look for food we can never find a place. Apparently people in Harbin don’t eat, or eat at home. We finally found a small little restaurant that sold boazis (meat dumplings). It held about 8 people, so Mark and I ordered some baozi’s and found that they were one of the best we have eaten since being in China. After our bellies were full, we hopped in a taxi to go to the Tiger Reserve outside of the city.

We arrived and the taxi offered to wait for us, knowing that it would be a long time before another comes, if ever, out to the reserve. Having fond memories of Cambodia, before Mark could form the words, I agreed.

They put us in a waiting area, until the tour bus came to pick us up. We went through a series of fenced gates where if you didn’t know any better, could have been a prison at one point. There were lookout towers, and sections that were fenced off, each having a huge locked fenced door to separate the tigers , such as mature tigers, and maternity tigers. The reserve itself is a decent size but I suspect still not enough for these animals. That being said, they are beautiful animals and great to see them when they are playing with each other.

After the reserve we decided lunch was in order, so we decided to check out this pub, called the Fox, and had our taxi drop us off there only to find that it was closed. Helped if we actually checked out the hours of operation. So next on the list was a cute bar called Brother . It was built like a ski lodge as the owners owned a ski shop which was attached to the bar/restaurant. Quite lovely. As we were leaving, it started snowing, so Mark and I started taking pictures. You think we never saw snow before so we decided to go back to the pedestrian walk and take photos. Okay, at this point, I started regretting our decision to not be home for the Christmas holidays. Mark just gave me this look, like you’re kidding right? He blamed it on the snow.

Dinner was at a quaint Russian restaurant at the end of the pedestrian walk. Our meal consisted of Russian salad, Herring, cabbage rolls and stuffed peppers. We ordered too much. We’ve been living in China too long. The food was delicious. We found a cute American bar and had a couple of drinks before returning back to the hotel. It was such a beautiful night, and the street with the European architecture gave it a very old traditional feeling. Just missing the Christmas trees, and the carolers.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Maybe we should listen to each other...

So today, as we were enjoying our last afternoon in Harbin before going to the airport to heading down to Shanghai, we were discussing all of the travels that we had been able to do this year. As we listed off the places that we had gotten to see and how lucky we were Tina mentioned that my earlier post about how I was just following her to places she wanted to go and see, after we went to Laos for the plain of jars of course, wasn't actually true. "What?" I asked her, "Which other choices were mine?" Well Harbin topped her list, and I guess that I had wanted to get up here to see it, but Fenghuang was her choice, as was Songshan. True, and we both had wanted to see the Xinjiang province and go down to visit family in Malaysia. She then threw out our next trip, to Sanya - the Hawaii of China, as something that was also my choice. That startled me as I'm not big on going to the beaches, I had thought that Sanya was something that she wanted to see and I was just following along since she had agreed to head down to Laos again.

Yeah, turns out neither of us really cares about seeing Sanya. Somehow we had both gotten it into our heads that we were only going because the other one wanted to see it. So now we're crossing that off our list and we've got a free long weekend of travel to use up before the end of the year. The question is where to go, and do we go for natural scenery, for culture, for history, or for a city?

Here is our short list:
1. Qingdao - The German colonial city where Tsingtao beer is brewed, supposed to be beautiful.
2. Hongcun - Historical town with architecture from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Also an UNESCO Site.
3. Sanming - The town our landlord lives in, he has invited us to come up for a weekend so he can show us around and have us over for dinner.
4. Tiger Leaping Gorge - Stunning landscape in the south.

If I knew how to add a polling box to this I'd run a vote and just tally up where to go, but as it is we will just ask for any thoughts or suggestions. We will probably just end up putting the names in a hat and then just drawing one.

To think that if Tina hadn't taken the time to explain what a giving wife she is we would have ended up taking a long weekend someplace neither of us really cared about seeing...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Let it snow...

We were up and out to a brisk beautiful morning our first day in Harbin...
But around noon the skies began to cloud up and by 15:00 we started seeing tiny little flakes coming out of the sky. First snow in Harbin this year we were told.
The snow continued on into night, at times heavy but usually just a light dusting. Still beautiful, and a welcome change from the heat of Xiamen.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Travel Warning.

Today we are off yet again on a short holiday, before I get to spend a week in Shanghai for work, and Tina just receives the following travel notice:


Summary

Heavy snow has resulted in extensive air travel disruptions and highway closures in northern China, especially in the capital of Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei, Shanxi, Ningxia and Xinjiang provinces, since late Nov. 9. Meteorologists expect the snow to continue at least through Nov. 12.

Snow forced authorities to close all highways in Shanxi Province . Sections of roads and highways in the national capital region and Hebei Province are also closed. The snow has also caused flight diversions, cancellations and delays at regional airports, including Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) and Yinchuan Hedong Airport (INC) in Ningxia Province . On Nov. 10, authorities shut down the Taiyuan Wusu Airport (TYN) airport in Shanxi Province due to ice on the runway.

Advice

Confirm all flights and prepare for delays and cancellations. Delayed flights due to backlogs are possible even when conditions improve. Companies that rely on air and ground transport in the affected regions should prepare for possible supply chain disruptions. Widespread power outages and telecommunications disruptions could also occur.


Interesting - don't travel to the north. That's exactly where we are headed, up to the north eastern corner of China. We will spend the weekend in the near-freezing temperatures of the heavily Russian influenced town of Harbin. Sounds like we may get some snow, but that's okay because we packed our hats.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Time with the Mexican

Now that the Mexican has been over here working for almost 4 months, he decided to bring his wife and daughter over to Xiamen for a quick week. They get to catch up with their old friends from when they lived here; he gets to see his family and all that other good stuff...

Last Saturday we took Laura and Rene out to a new restaurant in town, Antoine's, which is a fine dining / jazz bar type of place. Very swanky for Xiamen and we had a good time enjoying some nice, albeit expensive, wine.

Laura and Rene

Later that night they picked up Alejandra, who had gone out to meet some of her old school friends, and we had a few drinks with them before calling it an early night and heading home.

Sunday whilst Rene was at work we tool Laura and Alejandra over to Coyote, the new Tex-Mex restaurant in Xiamen, and enjoyed their brunch menu and some margarita's.
Laura and Alejandra

Once Rene showed up it was a quick stop over to Me & You 2. We were going to take everyone over to the night market for dinner, but what with jet lag and just general tiredness somewhere around 18:00 we decided that we wouldn't make it waiting until 21:00 to eat.

It's been good to catch up with them, even if it is just for a short time. Tina played up a girls day out yesterday, going out for massages and then pedicures, so I'm sure they are enjoying it here more then they would be back in Seattle.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Coyote's First Anniversary Party

A few weeks back, our favourite Mexican restaurant had their first anniversary party here in Xiamen.

By the time Mark and I arrived, which was around 6:30pm the place was packed, so Mark and I stood by the bar where we met some of our friends. This place is very popular with the expats missing their burrito fixes, or more than likely their margaritas. Yea, it's probably the latter.

There were food and drink specials, baseball caps given to all of us, as well as games where one could win prizes. The highlight was the 1/2 price jugs of margaritas.

I was the the first lucky winner of the evening. I won a very lovely pair of sunglasses, (which I donated due to the fact that I can't see without prescription lenses), an adorable pencil case, and a cactus pen. Yea, I know you're all jealous!


Sarah
Sunglasses that were donated to AmyTone with her prize
Tony enjoying the evening Ron, the owner of Coyote, enjoying the prizes he gave away


Towards the end of the evening, a regular decided that he was going to pay for every one's bar bill up to that point that he made the announcement, and yes he was sober.

All in all a great night, and we wish Coyote many years of success in Xiamen.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mexican Dining...

Last week the Mexican invited over to his hotel so that he could cook for us. He had been bragging about how good his shrimp is and of course we had to see for ourselves how good his cooking really was.

Preperation
Cooking

He cooked up a few kilos of shrimp and two red snappers, it was excellent and we managed to eat our fill...
Then this Friday the Mexicans wife flew in with his daughter to spend a week, so we will get to see Laura and Alejandra. It'll be good to get a chance to catch back up with them again...

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Censorship...

One thing that we yearn for here is good old fashioned magazines in English, and one that we quite enjoy is the Economist. We've actually gotten to the point that when we have guests we ask them to bring in copies along with the wine that is required for entry into our small home. We used to be able to pick English magazines up at the airport but about three months ago all of the English items disappeared and they still have not returned.

So, when we returned from our trip to Malaysia, Laos, and Hong Kong, we returned with several magazines that had been purchased both in Malaysia and HK. Then when Skip and Holly showed up a week later they brought a stack of back issues of the Economist that they had, a few of which we already had.

We have seen before duplicate copies where the cover art was different, most notably when Emily and Elaine brought a copy that had a drawing about an article on Texas on the cover when the rest of the world had a cover showing the riots in Xinjiang, China. But, the other day I was thumbing through one that I had read before and noticed a sticker over one of the photos that wasn't there before. Sure enough, I go to the other magazine and there is the full photo.
The article is about how the economic downturn is hitting the porn industry in California, it's a sad story really - you could probably read it if you clicked on the photo, and the photo is just of the rows of movie titles (VHS boxes) that you would see in any well equipped sex store.

The photo isn't clear enough to see any nudity, but you can see titles and that is what I presume they were trying to block - although porn star names in the article are still there. I'm thinking they would be worried about people looking up the titles over the internet, otherwise what could be the logic in blocking it? We looked at the subscription leaflets in the magazine and found that the censored one was from Malaysia.

That's a lot of work to go in and place a label on every single copy sold in Malaysia, who do you think got stuck with that job, and did they have to be applied before the magazines were imported into Malaysia?